Eddy Raven hasn’t been heard from very much in the past 20 years. That was when the last of his songs hit the upper reaches of the charts, shortly before the hits began to dry up as the new millennium approached. Consequently, All Grassed Up could be considered Raven’s comeback of sorts, an earnest attempt to rekindle his career. He certainly ups the ante by reprising a trio of earlier contenders — a riveting remake of I Got Mexico, his first number one country hit from 1984, a tender take on Thank God for Kids, originally written for and performed by the Oak Ridge Boys in 1982, and Sooner or Later, a song which returned him back to the top ten in the early ‘90s.
If that was the only tack Raven depended on to bring himself attention, it very well may have succeeded. However, to his credit, Raven doesn’t simply depend on re-dos and repetition. Rather, he reinvents himself by teaming with bluegrass band Carolina Road and forging a union that finds a creative compromise between the group’s rambling rhythms and his own innate ability to secure instant engagement. Both tough and tender, Raven assumes credibility with an unflinching attitude and songs that sound as if they were tailor made for a cross collaboration. “Bluegrass music has welcomed Eddy into our world,” Carolina Road’s singer and mandolin player Lorraine Jordan writes in the liner notes, and indeed, the natural synergy of styles would seem to bear that out. From the rugged determination of Good Morning Country Rain and the assertive stance of Bayou Boys to all the rollicking melodies that fall in-between, this is an album that seems certain to achieve a twofold purpose — not only to reassert Raven’s commercial credence, but also to establish the fact that Carolina Road is equally worthy of the same wider recognition.
Of course, times have changed since Raven’s heyday on country and contemporary radio. Indeed, on the title track, Raven laments the fact that the mainstream market seems to have forgotten folks like Doc Watson and negated those artists tied to tradition — folks like Roy Acuff, the Osborne Brothers and, yes, Carolina Road as well. Bluegrass, he suggests, deserves to be considered country. Happily, he and the band set an example, finding in All Grassed Up an exceptional fusion of past and present.
With banjos, fiddles and mandolin creating the soundtrack for much of today’s populist precepts, and artists like Marty Stuart and Loretta Lynn acquiring renewed appreciation, it would seem Raven and Carolina Road have chosen an opportune time to forge a creative bond. All Grassed Up is fuelled by finesse.